CREED II: Long-running movie franchises often reach a point where they’ve mined all their creative riches from the material forcing them to “borrow” plots from previous works. I’ve seen it in some of the 007 flicks and there’s a liberal amount of artistic recycling going on in this follow-up to the rebooted CREED (2015) which was overpraised by virtue of the fact that it was much better than what anyone thought was basically a ROCKY VII movie had any chance of being. Jump ahead to three years later when Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has become the heavyweight boxing champion and a father to be much like his mentor/trainer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) did in ROCKY II (1979). Not content with revisiting only that sequel, Stallone and co-writer Juel Taylor’s screenplay dredges up a formidable challenger to the champ with the menacing presence of a Russian power puncher (Florian Munteanu) who just happens to be the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) who killed the title character’s father in the equally unnecessary ROCKY IV (1985). Gee, I guess Clubber Lang’s (Mr. T) kids were all girls. The storyline plays out pretty much as followers of the series expect it to with underlying familial themes, scenes of fighters training in God-forsaken locales to stirring background music plus the usual spate of well-choreographed boxing matches that look like they’re taking place in an elevator with much facial bleeding. Cliches abound as well with those closest to Adonis trying to talk him out of the fights (There are two of them and if you know the formula, you know what their outcomes are going to be.) to no avail owing to his misplaced need for redemption of some kind. There’s also a subplot about a newborn with serious health complications that’s abandoned with no resolution as well as pathos attempted scenes where guys talk to headstones in cemeteries. I don’t mean to imply that this movie has no redeeming merit. But when a work is so predictable that you know what’s coming it takes the drama out of a melodrama like this one which never generates any tension of any kind. Like a lot of professional boxers, this movie series just didn’t know when to quit.
CRITIC’S GRADE: C+
CLOSING CREDITS: By far, the best movie using boxing as a backdrop is director Martin Scorsese’s (THE DEPARTED) RAGING BULL (1980). The film is an extraordinarily compelling look at ‘50s middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) who’s accurately portrayed as an abusive, brutish man who could only express himself in the ring and through violence outside of it. The black and white cinematography is marvelously expressive in its’ seeming austerity with some of the bloodiest, most intense boxing scenes ever put on film. DeNiro (TAXI DRIVER) did his own fight scenes and put on a ton of weight to depict LaMotta in his post-fight years having gone to seed. The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and won for Best Actor (DeNiro) and Best Film Editing.